Richmond Park, Jamaica
“This is my first grand!” My grandfather would shout to people when I would accompany him to the rum bar. My chest swelled like a blowfish, and each time he said it I looked strangers in the eye and nodded. I liked hanging out with Papa because he’d let me drink rum with him. My feet would dangle from the bar stool and my slippers fell off my feet and my elbows barely rested on the bar counter. He allowed me to take a few sips before he chased me off back home to finish my studies or before Mama started to worry. Truth be told, he didn’t want me finish off his drink of rum and iced water.
The summer before my Common Entrance- a nationwide exam -was filled with intense studying under the mango trees then scrambling up those trees for an afternoon snack. As part of the daily summer ritual, Mama asked me to get my school bag after breakfast. As I descended the ruby red steps into the garden I noticed she had a stick. She always had a stick for her grand-daughters who were entering pre-teen years with a lot of sass. I sat beside her. “Take out de Math’s book,” she instructed. As she skipped the pages her lips pursed and the hand holding the stick loosened a bit, a good sign that there will be no beating, for now.
That evening I was sent to the neighborhood shop ran by Miss Berta out of her backyard groceries. Along the way I was careful to walk in the middle of the truncated sidewalk to avoid swerving cars on one side and the many yards that had “Beware of Bad Dogs” signs tied to the gates. Miss Berta’s left eye bulged abnormally out of the socket. My eyes were always on the floor littered with newspapers when I entered. “Is what you want?” she asked. The shop was lit by a single bulb attached precariously to two entwined wires. I smelt the pigs’ feet in brine. Like Mama, Ms. Berta was seldom without a cigarette lodged in the corner of her mouth. The only difference was Mama had the lighted end in her mouth and puffed the smoke out the other side. I bought two pounds of rice, half pound of pig tails and half pound of salted pork. I guessed these were the ingredients for stew peas or red peas soup. I never knew what was for dinner until we sat around the table. For my usual secret reward, I bought a pack of peanut butter cookies and walked home slowly as I consumed the cookies and discarded the evidence.
Dinner was a few hours away. I walked through the living room and saw Papa’s work shoes. He was home. I saw him walking to the gate. I dropped the groceries on the kitchen table ran to meet him. “Oh you home!” We walked in silence to the bar for our after work drinks.